Freedom. It’s something that has largely been restricted for more than a year due to the global pandemic.
So entering Coventry Dining Club (CDC) on its opening night last Friday felt like a massive step towards ‘normal times’.
There was a freedom to choose from numerous different streetfood vendors and drinks suppliers, all located around a large, open-air, seating area that ensured social distancing can still be observed.
CDC, a spin-off of the hugely popular Digbeth Dining Club, enjoyed a successful time last summer operating from within the walls of Coventry Cathedral ruins.
That picturesque setting was unavailable this time around due to building works on-site, but the neighbouring Cathedral Square provided a logical alternative.
After a brief period of queuing to get in, we were set free upon the giant expanse of tables, which you must book and pay for online before arriving.
Once you’ve found a spare table, there’s a QR code you scan onto your phone from which you can peruse the various drinks offers which were then brought to your table. This section of CDC is off-limits for customers to walk up to, but the waiting times we found were within five to ten minutes from ordering to the drinks arriving.
With a can of Twisted Barrel ‘Shock Me’ IPA and my wife happily sipping on a cocktail from another Coventry-based company, we hatched our food plan and, because there’s no table service with this part, you’ve got to get up and queue.
The vendors at any given CDC weekend vary, so each time you go you’re likely to get a different experience. For our visit we had Canoodle Street Chef, Leave it to Esmie, Phata-Phat, Stripbclub Streetfood, Halloumi Fries Street Chef and Urban Cheesecake.
Leave it to Esmie is another Coventry-based eatery at FarGo Village, so that was our first destination.
The queues for three different vendors did merge into a bit of a confusing muddle as those who poured through the doors eagerly hunted for something to eat.
But patience prevailed and I was soon walking back with two jerk dishes; one chicken and one soya. The trays were brimming with colour. Rice and peas, coleslaw, pickle and plantain were all packed in there with the sweet chilli southern fried chicken. It was an intriguing, well-constructed plate of food to savour in the venue as the sunset and music played from a DJ creating a relaxing atmosphere.
While prices vary from vendor to vendor, a meal will generally cost you around £10. Or a little bit more (for example, adding chips to a burger) etc.
I overheard some people trying to strip back their orders to not have this, or that. The spirit of streetfood at this kind of event really is about the creative combinations that sound and look appealing. It’s an opportunity to roll the dice a little, try something new. It’s not the cheapest way to eat out, but you’re also buying into the CDC experience, which brings together music, food and drink in one setting.
The next vendor we sampled was Stripclub. While the ‘Bacon Biscoff’ burger, which features both Biscoff spread and biscuits, appealed, I opted for the ‘BBQ Bae’, which combined two smashed aged beef patties, double American cheese, smokey barbecue sauce, beef fat fried onions, gherkins, mayo, mustard and a steamed seeded brioche bun. That’s a lot of ingredients for one burger that came in at £8.50.
This weird and wonderful combination of ingredients made for a memorable burger which wasn’t the biggest, but was bursting with flavour and moisture. It was finger-licking good and worth the wait.
Our only issue really was the amount of time we spent apart as a couple.
While the instructions were to pick a table and stick to it, there wasn’t an abundance of free tables so we had to divide to conquer. This wasn’t so much of an issue when inside the ruins last year, but in this larger expanse, I’d much prefer to return in the future with a full table of six – which seemed to be how most people attacked CDC.
Finally, to wrap up our night, we called in at Urban Cheesecake, the brainchild of Nuneaton chef/entrepreneur Tony Jackson. With a choice of sauces and toppings, we went for Reece’s peanut butter cups and sea salted caramel. The £7 treat was a great way to conclude the night, it tasted as good as it looked – I mean how can you go wrong with that combination?
These sort of streetfood events are popping up all across the country and we’re fortunate to have an abundance of companies on our doorstep who combine to make Coventry’s version a really credible, varied and enjoyable experience.
My top tips if you’re thinking about attending; definitely take a good coat if you’re attending in the evenings, it really got chilly when the sun disappeared! Try and fill your table out so you’re getting more value for money out of it but also ensuring nobody is left ‘manning the fort’.
Arriving early helps with beating the queues but after the initial first hour of queues, most of them shrunk as the night wore on. If you arrive early, you’re also more likely to get a table closer to the vendors, ours was a decent walk away.
And have an open mind to the items the vendors are serving up, if they’re at an event like CDC, there’s a good chance they’re successful at putting on smiles on faces.
The first weekend Coventry Dining Club weekend was a sell-out but returns on Friday (April 30) through to Sunday (May 2) before a third stint that runs from Friday, May 28 to Sunday, May 30.